Rarely does an NBA player deserve as much credit for carrying his team to a title the way Dirk Nowitzki has in the 2011 NBA Finals.
Michael Jordan carried the Bulls to six titles, his last in 1998. Since then, there have been seven NBA Finals Most Valuable Players before Nowitzki.
Tim Duncan was the best player on a Spurs club that won four titles, with one that included an MVP for teammate Tony Parker. The Lakers won three rings with MVP Shaquille O'Neal, and teammate Kobe Bryant added two more later with Pau Gasol. Chauncey Billups won an MVP with an all-around team effort from a very strong Detroit Pistons starting five. Dwyane Wade won a title with Miami, with O'Neal's help. Paul Pierce won an MVP with a different Big Three.
But the 2011 NBA Finals Champions were overwhelminly due to Nowitzki. He carried his team like no other MVP since Jordan.
Despite a terrible first half in Game Six, Nowitzki came storming back in the fourth scoring 10 points. More importantly, he was an almost impossible player to guard in the Finals. Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra called Nowitzki an indefensible player in a Game Six post-game press conference.
It's hard to disagree with Spoelstra. Nowitzki could shoot over just about any player, and fouling him was not much of an option since he was nearly perfect from the free-throw line, missing just one foul shot out in 46 attempts.
The Mavericks were composed of a collection of good, but not great, players around Nowitzki. Jason Kidd was an All-Star in 2009, but at age 38, he is no longer the star he once was. Center Tyson Chandler was named to the 2010-2011 NBA All-Defensive Second Team, but that's where the accolades end for Nowitzki's teammates this season.
Dallas had several other role players who stepped up. Jason Terry, Shawn Marion, and J.J. Barea all gave strong efforts, but those valuable Mavericks' players were aided by Nowitzki's presence on the court.
The Mavericks' role players were particularly tough for the entire post-season, though when the team needed a basket in crunch time, they went to their star big man. While other NBA Finals MVPs had at least one star around them, Nowitzki had a tough and gritty squad intent on playing complimentary roles to their superstar.
Nearly all NBA experts counted the Mavericks out of winning the title before the season started. It was Nowitzki who was the key figure that got the Mavericks to overcome the tough Portland Trail Blazers, the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers in a series sweep, the up-and-coming Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals, and The Big Three of the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals.
Indeed, this was no stroll through the NBA Playoffs for the Mavericks, and they likely wouldn't have made the playoffs at all without their 7'0 star.
Since being drafted in 1998, Nowitzki has been a standout player since his second season in the NBA. Even when he was a teenager playing in Germany, Nowitzki was declared the best foreign player I've ever seen, and will be an all-time great, by renowned international recruiter and former California Golden Bears' assistant coach Scott Beeten.
Beeten turned out to be exactly right.
Many foreign players have been tagged with the label of being soft, and Nowitzki was no different. After so much talk of being considered not tough enough over his long NBA career, Nowitzki played with guts in what some believed was his last chance to win a ring.
He was the go-to guy in the fourth quarter in the Finals, played with a tendon tear in his finger, and was still effective in Game Four inspite of a 101-degree fever. He hit the go-ahead Game Two shot with three seconds left that gave the Mavericks the much-needed road victory.
Dirk was just being himself, said Chris Bosh, when asked to describe how Nowitzki was able to have such a great Finals.
That may not be completely true.
Dirk Nowitzki has been considered an excellent player before the playoffs, but he elevated his game to a new level this year, and for that he deserves all the credit that can be bestowed on him.